Foreign aid: how much does the UK give, where does it go, and how does it compare to other countries’ budgets?

Rebel Tory MPs including Andrew Mitchell will not get a vote on Boris Johnson’s cuts to the overseas aid budget

Foreign aid: how much money does the UK give, where does it go - and how does it compare to other countries? (Photo by Alastair Grant-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The government has rejected calls to put its proposed cut to foreign aid spending to a vote, as a number of Conservative MPs were prepared to rebel.

Among those said to be willing to vote against the government on the issue are Theresa May, David Davis and Jeremy Hunt.

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Despite a pledge in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to retain the UK’s foreign aid budget at 0.7 per cent - an OECD benchmark - foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced a cut of 0.2 percentage points, or £4bn, last year.

Former Conservative chief whip, Andrew Mitchell said that “more and more” Conservative MPs will rebel against the government over cuts to foreign aid.

He said: “With our economy returning to growth, there is no justification for balancing the books on the backs of the world’s poor.

What is foreign aid?

Foreign aid is when a country or group of countries gives money, resources or other support to another country.

While we tend to think of foreign aid as similar to charitable giving, it can take many forms, from humanitarian work and direct financial help to trade allowances or business-related support.

There is a foreign aid target for developed nations which amounts to 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI), which the UK has been committed to for some time.

However, the Conservative government announced last year that this would be cut, citing the difficult economic situation as a result of Covid.

A vote was due to take place on the issues previously, back in February, but there were reports that the government prevented this to save face internationally as there was an upcoming summit.

Which countries give the most foreign aid?

There are two ways to measure foreign aid contributions.

According to the OECD’s preliminary data on foreign aid in 2020, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and Germany were the highest relative contributors.

All five countries gave more than the benchmark 0.7 per cent, with Sweden surpassing this by more than 50 per cent.

However, looking at gross contributions, the five highest contributors as per the 2020 preliminary data were the US, Germany, the EU, the UK and Japan.

The US’s contribution of more than $35bn accounts for less than 0.2 per cent of its GNI, despite being the largest single contribution by $7.05bn - more than Sweden’s total amount.

Why are Conservative MPs opposed to the cut?

There are at least 30 Conservative MPs who are opposed to the cut, including former prime minister Theresa May, ex-Brexit secretary and leadership contender David Davis and former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Many Conservative MPs feel that, as the party committed to 0.7 per cent in their most recent manifesto, they should honor the pledge.

Speaking to NationalWorld, one Tory backbencher said that, “the only change to our manifesto commitment to maintain 0.7% between 2017 and 2019 was that we added the word "proudly".

They added: “I will proudly vote against this cut.”

Those opposed to the cut also highlight the impact it will have on important humanitarian projects around the world.

Funding for Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian emergency has been cut by 60%, with food assistance for a quarter of a million people in the country dropped.

Cuts to aid funding in conflict zones, such as Mali, Syria and Somalia, where the UK has a military presence, could also pose a risk to UK national security.

Harriett Baldwin, MP for West Worcestershire, said: “I’ve seen at first hand the crucial work that UK Aid supports around the world during my time as a Foreign Office Minister and, like each Conservative MP, I was re-elected in 2019 on a pledge to maintain the 0.7 per cent international aid spending commitment as the law of the land.

“Of course the aid budget drops when the economy shrinks, but we should not create a double whammy for the world’s poorest by cutting further to 0.5 per cent. And we certainly should not allow the Government to do it without a vote in Parliament.

MPs point out that the cuts to foreign aid amount to just 1 per cent of borrowing in this financial year.

And while government borrowing is currently high, the cost of servicing that borrowing is at a historic low, and many economists argue that high government borrowing is making up for

low private sector demand.

Losing influence

The Tory rebels also point out that no other G7 country is scheduled to cut their aid budgets, with France increasing their contribution to 0.7 per cent, Germany surpassing that and the US adding $14bn.

There is also a feeling among those MPs opposed to the cut that reducing the UK’s foreign aid contributions just before the G7 summit and in the run-up to COP26 will weaken our influence at a time when we need to be leading the way in tackling climate change and protecting the environment.

Andrew Mitchell said: “With G7 leaders coming to Britain next week, there is an opportunity for us to reclaim our rightful place on the global stage. Britain’s national interest is not being served by the devastating impact these cuts are already having on the ground and the unnecessary loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. We urge the government to think again.”